From Out Magazine’s cover story on actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt:
Watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s short movie Pictures of Assholes is deeply instructive. In a virtuoso example of table-turning, the young actor channels his camera on the paparazzi that are hounding him and a friend in New York City. When Gordon-Levitt politely asks their names, they bristle with injury and insult, responding with “Asshole” and “Asshole Jr.” Gordon-Levitt is undeterred, politely interrogating them as they pile insult on insult. Finally, the younger paparazzo comes clean about their motive: “We saw a young star with another guy, and it’s implied that there’s something going on,” he says coyly. “The whole gay thing — it intrigues people.”
Contrary to many celebrity-paparazzi encounters, no punches are thrown, no voices raised. Gordon-Levitt does not even bother refuting the gay innuendo (“That would be really tacky—they would win if I had to clarify,” he says). Instead, the video—which has been viewed more than 1,000,000 times on YouTube — wraps up with a polite handshake as the men separate. For budding Justin Biebers everywhere, it’s a textbook example of how to disarm your enemy without making a fool of yourself.
That Gordon-Levitt doesn’t refute the innuendo is what makes this video cool. By not refuting or denying the innuendo, he helps to remove the stigma that some people attach to the label gay. It helps to remove some of the shame that people feel with that label, and, more importantly, helps remove the threat of using the label as a weapon. Gordon-Levitt’s non-response helps to takes away the power from that kind of threat; the one that keeps so many people in the closet. By not showing any discomfort with the implication that the paparazzi makes, he helps to make people who are gay feel more comfortable with themselves; in the closet or not. It is this type of reaction that will help get us to the day when no one will feel shame for being gay and no one can use the term gay for intimidation or blackmail.